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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Madame de Sade
Wyndham's Theatre     Spring 2009

If you can imagine a play by a Japanese author, written in open imitation of the classical French tragedies of Racine, you might actually come up with something close to Yukio Mishima's Madame de Sade.

Several women, in elegant period gowns and wigs, stand around telling each other things they already know and describing offstage events, all at great length and in self-consciously poetic style.

Nothing actually happens onstage, and what happens off is just fodder for one or another of the onstage characters' spoken arias.

The subject is the never-seen Marquis de Sade, and the characters include his wife, her sister (with whom he had a brief affair), their mother, and a couple of friends, invented by the playwright to represent the extremes of polite French society, one religious and the other debauched.

Over an 18 year span (1772-1790) they tell each other in prurient detail about, and react in predictable ways to, the Marquis's latest debaucheries.

The one surprise - to us and the others - is that his wife remains faithful, convinced that there is an admirable purity in de Sade's explorations of evil that is deserving of her respect.

The play is being marketed as a vehicle for Judi Dench as the mother but, as has been the case in several of her recent stage appearances, her role is actually a secondary one, almost entirely a 'feed' to the others, setting them up for their big scenes and speeches.

Rosamund Pike brings impressive fervour and energy to Mme de Sade, going far toward making a convincing character out of the convoluted logic and overblown poetry of her justifications, and Frances Barber has fun as the more debauched friend, delighting in shocking the others with the explicit details of her pornographic reportage.

I must assume that the purple prose of Donald Keane's translation is true to the style of the original, and director Michael Grandage makes no attempt to disguise the static talkiness of the play, except for some ill-advised forays into expressionistic sound effects and amplification.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Madame De Sade - Wyndham's Theatre 2009

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